My Parents’ Love Dances

Parents in love dancingPeople in love can dance the night away
(Photo 
by Konstantin Ryabitsev)

I’ve learned a million useful things from my parents, but perhaps the most important lesson was how to love. Of course, I was familiar with love prior to that evening, at the tiny karaoke bar across from the train station. My brother and I grew up knowing the strength of a parent’s love for a child. We had all the parental love a child could dream of. It is an understatement to describe our parents’ love for us as good parenting, but the way my parents love each other has helped make me the person I am today— the person I hope to one day teach my own children to be.

All my life I watched my parents fall in love with each other. They held hands on walks, enjoyed candlelit dinners, and went out dancing. They would come home in the early morning, giggling and flushed like teenagers. After a long day of work my mom would use her long, colorful, nails to scratch patterns across my dad’s shoulder blades, turning the lights off to watch a movie together in the living room. These moments were like silent, inspirational words of love and became things that I, too, wanted in my relationships. My parents were always together and always happy.

When my dad’s health began to decline, my mom held her head up and handled business without so much as a hiccup. Watching late night movies together stopped because his spine ached and he couldn’t sit for long. There were no more fancy dinners and drinks because his pancreatitis made it impossible for him to enjoy meals. Despite the pain, my dad still tried to go out with friends so that my mom could socialize. One particular evening my dad was in a lot of pain before we even left the house. By this time I was over 21, so when my parents made their now very rare trips to the local karaoke bar, my brother and I and all our friends would join.

“Let’s just stay home,” my mom suggested.

“No. You’ve been looking forward to this. Let’s go. I’ll be fine.”

The bar was packed with people standing shoulder to shoulder and bumping into each other as they made their way to the bar and cheered one another. Normally my dad would be tilting his head back and doing shots with “Friday Night Shot Club” friends, but this night he sat on a bar stool looking smaller than I had ever seen him. His shoulders were rolled forward as he clutched his stomach, trying not to be obvious. His back hurt, his stomach felt like fire, and every single joint felt like it was being pulled in different directions. Yet he sat there and talked with his friends, putting his hand on my mom’s knee as if everything were normal.

At one point, my mom’s favorite song “Brick House” came on and she squealed like a high school girl. I have vivid memories of her cleaning the house with this song blaring, her duster seeming to brush with the beat. She jumped up and joined her friends.

“Go join her,” a friend elbowed my dad encouragingly, but he was exhausted. My mom glanced over at him as if to say, Stay there. I know you don’t feel well. It’s okay. I remembered a time when my dad used to take my mom’s soft hand and spin her around. He would sway his shoulders and snap his fingers while her red hair twirled like a wildfire. I watched my mom dancing with her friends and my stomach sank because that was supposed to be my dad.

I looked over at my dad, his head leaning on the wall and his arms crossed in front of his thinning chest that hid the machine keeping his heart beating. Like a finch, he sat up quickly, blinked, and hopped off the stool. He was cringing, but he walked toward my mom. As he passed me, he said, “I can’t let this happen.” He twitched his mustache in a way that reminded me of my entire childhood. He approached her and held a hand out and he took her in his arms as if he were healthy. He spun her around like they were young again, like they were the only two people in the bar. You would think they were somewhere fancier than at a dive bar dancing to “Brick House.”

Everyone else in the bar was distracted, yelling and clanging their glasses together. I felt like taking a picture to frame and tell the world that I was literally seeing what love looks like. Before I could do anything, my dad grabbed his stomach and limped outside for air. My mom went back to her seat, her mouth curving into a quiet smile. No one else in that bar understood what happened, but the inspirational words of love spoken through the actions of my parents taught me what love looks like. It made me smile, and I decided that this moment of parental love would be my definition of love for the rest of my life.

This Valentine’s Day, Everlasting Footprint reminds everyone to share their stories of love and celebrate the lives of their loved ones.

About Liz Grear

Liz Greer, MFA, teaches creative writing, tutors students, and dabbles in ballroom dancing, book binding, paper making, and playing hopscotch between Chicago and New Jersey. She dreams of running a writing workshop in a prison, because she believes words can change things. Maybe not all things. But enough things.

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